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Although our clients come from diverse backgrounds, everyone shares the same challenge: their English needs to be better NOW (or really, yesterday) but they have busy lives with work, school, and family, and there is rarely time to practice.
Being immersed in an American city doesn’t necessarily bring the fluency that everyone is seeking, either – sure, you learn quickly how to order a coffee or tell your landlord your sink needs attention, but unless you get the opportunity to speak daily in English in frequent new contexts, it is easy to become stuck in a vocabulary ‘safe zone’. Furthermore, asking native speakers around you to explain complex grammatical structures can feel awkward.
So, outside of classes and lessons, how can you help yourself improve when time is limited? Here are 3 tips for seamlessly working English practice into your daily habits when time is tight – try them out and see if you feel an improvement.
1. Talk to yourself in the shower while reciting your to-do list.
We credit one of our Korean clients for this simple and effective idea. Whether you shower at night or in the morning, you can recite your ‘to do’ list out loud, which gives the double benefit of helping you stay organized and ready for the next day while also practicing verbally. For example, “Tomorrow I will first _____ and then I have to ______. After I eat lunch at 1:00 p.m., I have to meet ____ to discuss _____ and then when we finish it will be time to _____.” Try to vary your transition phrases when talking through your day. Talking to yourself has been shown to have multiple cognitive benefits.
2. Reinforce awareness of grammatical structures while reading.
Whether you are reading in English for work, school, or pleasure, there is a simple technique for reinforcing your understanding of grammatical structures. Read a page or two first for understanding of the content. Then select a grammatical structure that you struggle with, for example, the present and past perfect tenses, conditionals, or fixed prepositional phrases. Go back and read the same page or two, this time focusing exclusively on the structure you have chosen. Notice the ways that structure shows up on the page and ask yourself if you understand it and if you would be able to replicated it accurately while writing in English. If not, take 1 minute to enter the phrase into a search engine and see where it leads you.
3. Utilize English language learning apps while waiting.
Stuck in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles? Waiting at the doctor’s office? Riding the metro or bus? Is there wifi on your flight or train? The 21st century has brought us amazing tools for on-the-go language learning. While apps won’t solve all of your issues with English, they can be wonderful supplements. For an interactive experience utilizing all skills, we recommend DuoLingo. Vocabulary.com’s app is great for expanding vocabulary, and Cambridge University Press has quality apps and games for grammar, vocabulary, phrasal verbs, pronunciation and test preparation. Pronunciation Power is the way to go for practicing the sounds of English and minimal pairs.
The most important thing is just to keep going – all practice contributes to feeling more comfortable in English. 10 imperfect minutes of practice each day is a much more effective approach than doing nothing because of lack of time. Everyone can find 10 minutes in a day, right?